Business of Flyboard® Interview with GRETCHEN ROGERS VANCE & BOBBY VANCE
By Shawn Galiotto ‐ Lake Erie Flyboard
As the summer rises upon those of us in the northern hemisphere we say goodbye, at least in my area, to one of the worst winters in 30 years. Sometimes we have to survive the worst to get to the best and I think that this summer for many of us it will be just that. There are many things happening in the world in general and nothing could be more exciting than what is happening in the world of Flyboarding and now of course Hoverboarding. The mind of Franky Zapata is one that I would love a look into. If the world had better technology, imagine what this guy would build us. I can only hope that at the North American Flyboard® Championship in Toronto, Canada on June 20-22, I will get the honor of shaking his hand at the very least.
I feel like flyboarding takes me back to being much younger and going skateboarding all day, every day. I remember the feeling that it generated and the feeling of freedom that it created. There was a bond that it created between friends and strangers alike. I remember going to a skate spot and just meeting new people and skating with them all day. Some of them are still friends of mine today. 20 years later and now we’re jumping on Flyboard’s together. I truly thank you Mr. Zapata.
Now we can see that this sport and community in general is starting to expand and embrace different products. There are pros and amateurs, fan boys and family members. This is really starting to gain some steam. As our sport expands there is a need for the creation of some type of association that can help monitor the growth of the sport. With the growth of the sport will come the growth of all of our business’s and I am sure like many of you that have been following along, I too know that I will never be a world champion but I want to support that end of it to help increase the interest and the profitability of my company. This is why the idea of an association and a structure to the sport is very much needed. In my research for this piece I came to find out that there are some people who do not agree with the formation of an association and want to lead the sport in a different direction. I can truly see both sides and I do form my opinion on the fact that without structure we cannot have success. So I see where others are coming from but I do support the USFLBA and have proudly become a member. I encourage you all to do the same. I also encourage anyone who has a different view to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me help make your voice heard as well.
For this month’s feature I reached out to Bobby and Gretchen Vance from Aquafly and Gulf States Flyboard, as well as the creators of the USFLBA or U.S. Flyboard Association. I wanted to hear from them on why the association is so important and what they do to balance the sport along with the business. These guys, and gal, are first class and put forth a lot of hard work and effort to be forward thinking for the rest of us. I value their opinion and wanted to have them address some of the issues I have received questions about. Such as issues with the Coast Guard and insurance along with plans for the association moving forward. Here is what Bobby and Gretchen had to say.
WHERE ARE YOU LOCATED?
Austin, Texas, USA
DOES YOUR COMPANY HAVE A FIXED LOCATION OR DO YOU TRAVEL?
Our main office and Flight Training Center are fixed but we also run a mobile operation capable of demonstrating the product at new locations throughout our territory.
WHAT IS YOUR DISTRIBUTION AREA?
Gulf States Flyboard is the Exclusive Distributor for Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas
HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED IN THE SPORT AND BUSINESS OF FLYBOARDING?
Like many, it began when I saw the very first YouTube Video put out by Zapata Racing in 2012. A close friend sent me the link and after viewing it, I knew it was something we needed to bring to Texas. At the time, distribution was handled by Flyboard, Inc and was shaky at best, so I made direct contact with the Zapata Racing Team for information. Shortly thereafter, Aquafly was born. We secured a location at Lakeway Marina during the summer of 2012 and began remodeling our office there. Before we knew it, distribution stopped in the US and by April 2013 a new set of distributors would be selected. We were in that group and in May we were offered our current distribution area.
IS YOUR INVOLVEMENT IN FLYBOARDING YOUR FULL TIME JOB?
DO YOU FEEL THAT YOUR COMPANY’S RENTALS WILL INCREASE THIS SEASON OVER RENTALS LAST SEASON?
Yes, we are already on a significant upward trend.
WHAT STEPS ARE YOU GUYS TAKING TO INCREASE SALES AND DISTRIBUTION IN YOUR AREA?
We participate in a number of different local and regional shows and productions related to the water sports industry and run promotional campaigns regularly as well as constantly updating our Internet presence. Currently we have a strong network of Flight Centers and Dealers throughout our territory that are all active in the Flyboard business. From a distribution perspective, we have developed effective business models for Flight Centers and partnered with the Apple Business Management Team to develop an integrated App system that streamlines the entire Flight Center operation. This is a single App designed to run on an iPad that allows the Flight Center complete control of the check-‐in process, customer flight experience, time management and data collection all in a paperless setting. It includes an electronic waiver as well as a safety & instructional video that our guests watch prior to their flight. This app is in active use in our flight centers.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR ROLE AS HEAD OF THE UNITED STATES FLYBOARD ASSOCIATION, U.S.F.B.A, AND HOW THAT ROLE CAME TO BE?
The creation of the USFBA is, in our opinion, an important piece to the puzzle for supporting and sustaining the business of Flyboarding as we know it. After collaboration with other distributors in the US, Canada and Mexico as well as discussions with Franky Zapata, it was determined that we should develop individual associations by country.
HAS THE RESPONSE TO THE ASSOCIATION BEEN WELL RECEIVED?
Yes and no. There seem to be mixed feelings by those in the Flyboarding community; those who have been affected by or have had to obtain special permissions to operate their Flight Centers understand the need for a single unified voice capable of lobbying for favorable government regulations as the sport grows and those who haven’t, therefore not truly understanding the need for an association.
WHAT STEPS IS THE ASSOCIATION TAKING TO ENSURE AN EQUAL VOTE FOR ITS MEMBERS? WILL THE MEMBERS BE INVOLVED IN DECISION MAKING PROCESSES?
Participation in the association is limited to individual membership and each member has a voice. The initial Board of Directors will hold that position for one year and at the expiration of that term, nominations will be submitted and voted on by the members. It is the goal of the association to have individual committees charged with the responsibility of overseeing the necessary aspects of the Flyboarding business. For example, events, competitions, government affairs, insurance and education.
ONE OF THE MAJOR CONCERNS I HEAR ABOUT IS INSURANCE. WHAT STEPS IF ANY IS THE ASSOCIATION TAKING TO CREATE A UNIVERSAL POLICY OR FINDING A STANDARD COMPANY THAT WE CAN ALL WORK WITH?
Obviously this is one of the single most important challenges facing us today and we are in the process of writing safety and training manuals that adhere to standards required by the insurance companies. It is our hope, that if adopted, the insurance industry will accept this standardized training and safety guidelines as industry compliant and offer significant discounts to those Operators who elect to abide by a set standard of operation.
ANOTHER MAJOR CONCERN IS THE COAST GUARD. FOR THOSE OF US HERE IN THE U.S. WHAT HAS TRANSPIRED AND CAN YOU BRIEF THE READERS ON ANYTHING THAT YOU FEEL WE SHOULD ALL KNOW AND FOLLOW PER YOUR DEALINGS WITH THE COAST GUARD? CAN YOU LEND ANY INSIGHT TO THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY ABOUT THEIR REGULATIONS?
Currently there are no blanket rules or policies in effect for Flyboarding. The Coast Guard is taking a wait and see attitude. A lot will depend on how we as a group handle ourselves and if we can self-regulate. Regions 7 and 11 (San Diego area and South Florida) have had attention drawn on a local level by the Coast Guard and there have been some recommendations made by the local offices there, but as of this date, no policies are forthcoming from Washington.
We have not been made aware of any significant rules or policies on the International front.
AS WE APPRAOCH THE 2014 SEASON IS THERE ANYTHING THAT THE ASSOCIATION WANTS TO HAVE EVERYONE FOLLOW AND TO WHAT DEGREE IS THIS OF IMPORTANCE?
First of all, the association is not a “governing body”. It is a voluntary organization established for the betterment and promotion of the sport. The best thing interested persons can do is join the association and share their thoughts, ideas, experiences and talents. Secondly, it doesn’t benefit us from an insurance or safety perspective when photos or videos of unsafe operations are published on the Internet. Videos and photos, especially of customers, flying without helmets or lifejackets will do nothing to help us secure better insurance rates.
TELL US ABOUT THE NORTH AMERICAN CHAMPIONSHIP ON JUNE 20-‐22ND IN TORONTO CANADA, AND HOW THE THREE DIFFERENT COUNTRIES ASSOCIATIONS WERE ABLE TO BRING THIS EVENT TOGETHER?
The North American Championships are solely the brainchild of our friends in Canada. They conceived the idea and have worked diligently to bring it all together. This will no doubt be an excellent foundation and beginning for more regional and national competitions. We fully support their efforts and are willing to be involved in whatever capacity they ask of us. Because of our involvement with bringing the North American Flyboard Family Weekend together last year, we understand the difficulty involved with putting on such a production and applaud them for blazing the path for us all to enjoy. Again, the best thing we as Flyboarders can do is attend and support the efforts of those involved with orchestrating the event.
WHAT PART DO YOU ENJOY MORE, THE SPORT OR THE BUSINESS END OF THINGS? IS THERE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO IN YOUR OPINION? WHAT IS THAT DIFFERENCE?
Personally I love both. I think being given the opportunity to earn a living by having others participate in such an awesome experience is completely rewarding. To date, we have never had anyone come out of the water with anything less than a grin from ear to ear and I’m willing to bet most other Operators share similar experiences.
Yes there is a difference between the “Business” and the “Sport”. In BUSINESS, you have to think globally to insure the longevity and profitability of the operation so that the SPORT can grow & prosper AND the SPORT of Flyboarding must be fun and appealing so that there is a BUSINESS. In other words, the two work hand-in-hand but are very different in their own rights, for without both, there would be no growth.
WHAT DIRECTION, AS FAR AS GOVERNING THE ENTIRE COMMUNITY AS A WHOLE, IS THE ASSOCIATION LOOKING TO GO IN? WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR THE NEXT FEW YEARS INVOLVING THE SPORT AND THE ASSOCIATION?
It is not the intention of the USFBA to become a “Governing” body. Our vision is that the Association become the collective voice of all those involved in the Flyboarding Community. Set the standard for training, licensing, safety, competitions and legislation negotiation.
WHAT IF SOMEONE HAS A COMPLAINT WITH A RULE OR REGULATION WITHIN THEIR AREA, CAN THEY REACH OUT TO THE ASSOCIATION FOR HELP IN RESOLVING THAT ISSUE?
Absolutely. Regardless of the complaint or regulation, if not handled in an appropriate manner, that rule or regulation has the potential to adversely affect us all.
I HAVE SPOKEN TO MANY DIFFERENT PEOPLE STARTING TO GET INVOLVED IN FLYBOARDING AND A MAJOR CONCERN IS THE WAY RIGHTS ARE GIVEN OUT AND THE AREA IN WHICH YOU ARE CONSIDERED A DISTRIBUTOR. HOW WILL THE ASSOCIATION ADDRESS PEOPLE WHO SELL OUTSIDE OF THERE DISTRIBUTION AREA? DO YOU FEEL IT’S FAIR FOR SOMEONE TO SELL OUTSIDE THEIR DESIGNATED AREA?
The association has no influence on the contractual agreements between Manufacturer and Distributor and will take no role in overseeing those agreements. It is the sole responsibility of the Distributors and Manufacturers to enforce the agreements. Obviously it is always best that each Dealer/Distributor respect each other’s territory to alleviate any ill feelings and maintain trust amongst one another.
WHEN A BOARD IS SOLD AND SHIPPED TO SOMEONE WITHOUT MAKING THEM GET THE PROPER CERTIFICATIONS, IN ESSENCE CREATING UNCERTIFIED OPERATORS. HOW WILL THE ASSOCIATION DEAL WITH UNCERTIFIED OWNER/OPERATORS? HOW DO YOU FEEL THIS TYPE OF CONDUCT AFFECTS THE INTEGRITY OF THE BRAND AS WELL AS THE ASSOCIATION?
Selling product without proper training could potentially damage Flyboarding for us all and the association will not support such activity from its members. Members must meet certain requirements and maintain standards that are not considered detrimental to the overall integrity of the sport. Therefore, their membership in the association could be compromised.
WILL THIS BE A MAJOR GOAL OF THE ASSOCIATION, TO LOG AND RECORD ALL THE COMPANIES THAT EXIST IN THE U.S., A SORT OF FLYBOARD DIRECTORY?
Yes. It will be the goal of the association to promote the sport and the business of rental operations as well as identifying all authorized Flight Centers and Dealers. (Note: H2RO Magazine has created a comprehensive Flyboard Companies page and will continue to update and work with all of the Associations to help provide a complete list of authorized businesses as a resource to Flyboard enthusiasts around the world)
FOR SOME WHO ARE JUST GETTING TO THE POINT OF DISCOVERING FLYBOARDING AND ITS BUSINESS POTENTIAL, THERE LACKS UNIVERSAL RESOURCES FOR SETTING UP A FLYBOARD BUSINESS. DO YOU THINK THERES POTENTIAL FOR THE ASSOCIATION TO DEVELOP A PROTOCOL OR MANUAL, PER SAY, TO HELP THESE COMPANIES GET STARTED? IS THERE POTENTIAL TO DEVELOP AN INTERNATIONAL PROTOCOL OR IS IT MORE LIKELY TO BE COUNTRY SPECIFIC?
Yes, the Association should set standards for operation as well as provide realistic information that can be relied upon as factual for all who are looking to enter the community. Development of safety or instructional manuals is a given. Writing specific business plans or developing models should be the responsibility of the Distributors.
IS THE ASSOCIATION GOING TO BE INVOLVED IN DEVELOPING A FRANCHISE TYPE STRUCTURE FOR STARTING A NEW COMPANY?
WHAT IS YOUR OPINON ON NEW COMPANIES STARTING UP BEING THAT YOU ARE SO CLOSE TO ZAPATA RACING, DO YOU KNOW WHAT THEIR OPINION ON ALL THE NEW OWNER/OPERATORS POPPING UP IS. DO YOU HAVE ANY INSIGHT ON THE RATIO OF COMPANIES OPENING IN THE U.S. VS ONES OPENING INTERNATIONALLY?
Without question the number of rental companies opening up seems to outweigh the number of private users but hopefully as the word about Flyboarding spreads that will change.
Internationally we have no data to base any comparisons on.
WILL THE ASSOCIATION HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH THE NEW HOVERBOARD?
Most likely. We’ll have to see how the product fits in the mix.
WHAT CAN YOU TELL US AS FAR AS THE HOVERBOARD BEING A COMPETION ITEM OR MORE OF A FUN TOY?
It’s hard to tell at this point. It will no doubt be a toy at first and as the users gain experience and start performing tricks, it will probably become competitive.
WILL YOU BE GETTING A HOVERBOARD? IS THERE A PRICE FOR THE HOVERBOARD IN THE U.S. YET?
Yes. As far as price goes, there has been discussion of the preliminary retail price, but until the product is actually released, the retail price will not be set. (UPDATE: Hoverboard Kit price $5,840 USD)
IN CLOSING, WHAT ARE YOU THE MOST EXCITED ABOUT FOR THIS NEXT SEASON. WOULD YOU AGREE THAT THIS WILL BE THE BIGGEST SUMMER FOR THE SPORT OF FLYBOARDING YET?
We are excited to be a part of this new sport and look forward to the introduction of the new Wireless EMK, the Hoverboard and we are especially excited about participating in the North American Championships in Toronto. Without question, this will be the biggest year for Flyboarding yet!
LASTLY, IS FRANKY AS GOOD IN PERSON AS HE IS ON VIDEO? LOL…. yes, yes he is.
FINALLY, WHERE’S MY T-‐SHIRT?
It’s in the T-Shirt Locker under “T”…LOL… call Gretchen.
I want to thank Bobby and Gretchen Vance for taking the time to answer these questions. I no doubt understand that we are all under the gun to get the season started and I am sure they are very busy. As we can see they really laid out the direction that they feel we are going in. With them being so closely associated with Zapata Racing, it is a no brainer to allow them to push forward in the direction that the sport and business need.
When getting ready to go blow the minds of the general public, remember some of the things that Bobby touched on about safety and posting pictures and videos of unsafe flying. It is very important to appease the masses and allow for our sport to grow organically and to stay away from rules that are forced upon us. As I would say, let’s not get on the radar. Let’s respect each others territories and let’s at all costs not let greed take over something as amazing as our sport.
I hope to meet some of you at the North American Flyboard® Championship and I’m looking forward to seeing some amazing flyers. If anyone is driving through my area on their way to the competition please stop and come fly with Lake Erie Flyboard. We would love to have anyone of you if not all. I hope you are all as excited as I am to get this season kicked off and cannot wait to see the bar raised as far as the skill level that will surely be showcased this summer. Imagine what the Flyboard World Cup will look like this year. Imagine all the people you will get to introduce to this amazing sport. It’s going to be a great summer.
Until next time folks, Go get high…..Flyboard high!!